Nancy hoping for Nice boost in survival fight
By S. Willis
Bottom club AS Nancy-Lorraine still believe in their chances of rescuing Ligue 1 survival this season, but to do so they will need a result when they welcome in-form OGC Nice to the Stade Marcel-Picot on Sunday afternoon.
AS Nancy-Lorraine - OGC Nice (kick-off 14:00CET)
The Lorraine club looked to be on the right track when they capped a solid first-half performance with a goal against leaders PSG at the Parc des Princes last weekend, but a second-half brace from Zlatan Obrahimovic put paid to their claims on even a point. "The difference was Ibrahimovic," said an understated coach Patrick Gabriel after the match that could have been a second win in a row following their 2-1 triumph in Sochaux in Week 27. "He's very difficult to control. But we're hanging on. People have said we'd go down for sure, ever since Christmas, but we're still here. We're taking our matches one by one. We can still beat the drop."
Six points adrift of safety, Nancy will need to score goals against Nice if they are avoid a repeat of the 2-1 loss to Nice at the Stade du Ray in Week 11, but goals have been hard to come by, with central defender and captain Sébastien Puygrenier the club's top scorer with four. However, Benjamin Moukandjo proved clinical with his goal in against PSG - his third of the season and second in as many games after scoring from the spot in the win in Sochaux - while Djamel Bakar has looked dangerous of late despite not having scored since Week 18.
On top of their strong performance against PSG, Nancy's confidence has been boosted by their run to the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France, and in truth they will need all the confidence they can get faced with Nice, who have been the revelation of the Ligue 1 season so far.
Puel praise for Bahoken
Habitually caught up in the relegation battle by this time of the season, under Claude Puel, Nice are now pushing for a European finish, four wins in their last six matches capping an impressive run in 2013 that has been bettered only by red-hot Saint-Etienne. Despite copping a 4-0 hiding against Saint-Etienne in Week 27, Puel's men proved that their mental strength had not been affected as they dealt Montpellier a 2-0 blow last weekend. Young striker Stéphane Bahoken bagged both goals on debut to show that club top scorer Dario Cvitanich - who is a chance to return after a month-long injury absence - is not Les Aiglons only source of goals.
"If the coach picked me it means he has faith in me," said Bahoken, whose teammate 16-year-old Neal Maupay - the second-youngest scorer in Ligue 1 history - has bagged three so far this season. "And I played well so I don't think I let him down." A very un-disappointed Puel agreed: "He's been doing well in training for a while now, and he has an interesting profile due to his power and his pace."
Puel will, however, have to do without the side's equal-second goal scorer Valentin Eysseric, who was handed a season-ending 11-match ban after his tackle broke Jérémy Clément's leg in the Week 27 loss to Saint-Etienne.
If other results go their way, Nice could rocket into third place with a win over Nancy, and turn their bid for a Europa League place into a chance at Champions League football - albeit through qualifying - but they will have to contend with Nancy's fighting spirit on the synthetic pitch at the Stade Marcel-Picot to do so.